SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has launched an attack on the SNP and Ukip as he drew a direct comparison between the parties and accused them of attempting to “create division”.
The Liberal Democrat leader claimed both Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage wanted to “talk up difference” as he delivered a keynote speech in Edinburgh ahead of the European Parliament elections this week.
Mr Clegg’s attack came after an ICM poll for The Scotsman showed the Lib Dems face the prospect of losing their only European seat north of the Border in Thursday’s elections.
He claimed both the SNP and Ukip would “put Scotland’s position in the EU at risk” with an independent Scotland facing obstacles to winning membership and Mr Farage seeking to engineer the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The ICM survey showed the SNP on a 36 per cent share of the vote, with Labour on 27 per cent, the Tories 13 per cent and the Lib Dems 7 per cent – a result that would see Mr Clegg’s party lose its only Scottish MEP.
Ukip is expected to make sweeping gains in the elections south of the Border. But the 9 per cent it polled in Scotland in the ICM survey would see it fail to win a Scottish seat.
Mr Clegg’s attack on the SNP came as he called on Mr Salmond to “play a role” in delivering more devolution in the event of a No vote in the independence referendum.
He suggested the political muscle of the Nationalists could make it “more likely” for more powers to be handed to Holyrood.
Speaking to business leaders yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “Whatever their obvious difference, both the SNP and Ukip share a willingness to put Scotland’s position in the EU at risk. The SNP denies it, while Ukip campaigns on it. Both are making a gamble the UK cannot afford.”
Linking Ukip and the SNP, and comparing them to those campaigning for a No vote, he said: “On the one side, you have those whose first impulse is to talk up difference, create division, pretending we live in a world where states can still thrive when they stand alone.
“On the other, you have those of us who believe that the challenges of a global world are best met by removing barriers, embracing diversify and seeking common solutions.”
In a question and answer session, Mr Clegg suggested the SNP “cannot tolerate the idea that devolution is possible” as an alternative to independence. He said: “They want to corral everyone to one stark choice.”
Speaking to the media later, Mr Clegg refused to speculate on whether the Lib Dems faced another electoral meltdown in this week’s elections, three years after the party saw its representation at Holyrood slump from 17 MSPs to five.
However, he conceded that his party faced a more difficult challenge than at the last European election in 2009, when George Lyon was returned as the party’s only MEP in Scotland.
Mr Clegg suggested that Lib Dem involvement in the Conservative-led coalition government at Westminster could affect the party’s prospects in the elections.
SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing last night accused Mr Clegg of making “empty promises” about devolution.
She said: “Given that Mr Clegg’s party have been promising home rule for over 100 years, people in Scotland are unlikely to view them as the guarantors of anything, except continued Tory rule from Westminster.
“Let’s not forget that, as recently as 2011, the Lib Dems had the chance to beef up the Scotland Bill with a raft of new economic powers that they had previously supported, but they reneged on their previous commitments.”
David Coburn, Ukip’s lead European candidate in Scotland, said: “Nick Clegg is completely irrelevant in Scotland and his party will lose its seat because of the way his party has let people down in Scotland.”